Supermac's everyday car

Supermac's everyday car

Its practicality may be a matter for debate but there’s no question that the McLaren 570S is fun to drive, as Josh Simms reports.

McLaren Automotive wants you to know that its latest sports car, the 570S, the first of its new Sports series, comes with a vanity mirror. There’s a glove box too - a first for the company that launched just six years ago, later wowing car nuts with its £875,000 P1.

There are two cup holders, 150 litres of luggage space - enough for a couple of holdalls - and even the swing-up doors, a McLaren signature, have been redesigned to make the car easier to get into and, more problematically after a certain age, get out of.

In other words, McLaren is pitching the 570S - the first of which should be on the road by the end of the year - as its first ‘practical’, ‘everyday’ and, at around £140,000, ‘affordable’ car. This is, note, the same car that, with its Formula 1-inspired carbon fibre mono-cell frame and aluminium panels, will propel you from 0 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds - helpful for when the weekly shop really must be done and the supermarket is about to close.

“Well, for McLaren it’s an everyday car, just providing you don’t need to get two people in the back,” jokes Robert Melville, the company’s 38-year-old head of design, ex of Land Rover and General Motors’ prestigious Advances Design Studio. “We know there’s a growth market for this kind of car. Porsche of course does it so well but this is a new proposition, because the 570S comes with that Formula 1 technology - its a sports car with super-car design. People have lives and need to be able to get in and out easily, throw some bags in the back. But they still want the drama and excitement of the kind of cars we have normally made. Above all this is a fun car to drive.”

Certainly McLaren is serious about the proposition and with good reason: the 570S’s practicality may be debatable (the company insists it will never launch an SUV) but it still marks a step change for the British super-car company. It is ploughing some £120m in research and development - a staggering 30% of current turnover - with the ambition to be making a steady 4,000 cars a year from 2017. By the end of this year it will have launched four new cars - as many as it has in its history to date - with the second quarter of next year seeing the 540C, an even more affordable version of the 570C.

That idea of affordability may be relative, but the shift in gears certainly means that McLaren is set to become a more high-profile name on the roads rather than just the race track. The company, which in 2015 saw its second year of profitability, says some 1,000 orders for the 570S have been placed to date, mostly to customers new to the marque.

Mclaren 570S 01

“Part of the intention with the 570S is to make McLaren much more visible and in doing so lay a foundation for the future of what is still a young company,” explains Melville. “McLaren already has wide appeal as a name. This guy serving in a shop in New York told me the other day that he loved driving the P1, which left me confused for a moment. But he meant in a video game. It was his favourite car. So the brand is already reaching different people in different ways.”

But Melville also concedes that it is, perhaps, an odd time to be pitching the idea of an everyday super-car when the future of very high performance cars on the road is, according to some, in serious doubt - their status value diminished after a global economic crisis, their environmental credentials highly questionable and, yes, as premium SUV sales indicate, their utility in a world finding increasing appeal in getting about as easily as possible rather than as fast as possible looking to make them look like four-wheeled dinosaurs. Yet he still sees a place for them.

“These are complex issues - a lot of tech that makes mainstream cars more efficient filters down from the super-car world, and there will in time be a fully electric super-car no doubt,” argues Melville. “Sustainability aside there is this other key issue of the connected and autonomous car too - which we’re looking at too. But part of me thinks a move away from sports and super-cars would be sad too - many people love cars because they’re fun, because they feel they can engage with them, because they make you feel something.

They’re not just boxes you get in to get you somewhere. That fun element does have a future. I think the era of the American muscle car - with your V10, 8 litre engine - is over. But cars like ours will keep getting greener, more practical, and will show that their impact can be positive.”

Certainly the 570S makes its impact felt in the driving, right down - thanks to a re-engineered exhaust manifold - to the cleaner, more Formula 1 engine note. If, despite the car’s light weight - just 1,313kg dry - it feels solid and assured in its normal driving mode (good for that supermarket run then) it is an altogether different animal in its ‘active’ mode: nimble, responsive, nippy but rooted too - never so super that the everyday driver feels out of control in this supposedly everyday car.

That is in large part too due its aerodynamics, with the 570S’s front diffuser chanelling air both above, below and to the side of the car, where the door shape allows for a smaller side air intake and thus better aerodynamics still. All this just happens to look good too. But that, Melville might have you believe, is just a happy accident.

“For me the design aesthetic is about beautiful products that show their design. But it’s the problems we face in design, and their solutions, that create the car’s aesthetic,” he says. “Of course, there are ways of interpreting that, and some features are about balance, or catching the light in a certain way, but really the way it looks is the way it has to look. And that’s pretty good.”